Covered in mud, a woman faces the 8-foot wall in front of her. Towering two feet, seven inches above her head, it seems more like a skyscraper. She backs up in preparation for a sprint, shaking her arms to rid them from the numbness of burpees. She’s never made it over the 8-foot wall. She runs, jumps, and doesn’t even reach the top of the wall with outstretched hands. Before she realizes what’s happening two men in black and red jerseys appear at her sides, they boost her up and over the wall where a woman in the same jersey helps her to the other side and hands her a bracelet: “CORN FED SPARTANS, if you want to know run with us.”
The Corn Fed Spartans exploded onto the OCR scene in 2012 at the Indiana Spartan Sprint. Spartan Race founder Joe DeSena remembers them bothering him endlessly until he brought his race to their home turf. “The Corn Fed are a bunch of lunatics that demanded the Spartan Race come to Indiana. I was like, I said no! But they were relentless. They drove everybody in the organization crazy until we said yes.”
A RICH HISTORY
The Corn Fed Spartans started out as the brainchild of Jonathan Nolan and Nathan Devears to bring the Spartan Race to Indiana. Devears left the team in the first year, leaving Nolan as the captain of CFS. The team’s legacy began at the very first Indiana Sprint in 2012. A team member, Steven Skidmore, who had been training for the race, died of a heart attack just a few weeks prior to accomplishing his goal. Spartan made a marble plaque with Skidmore’s name on it. A cornerstone commitment of CFS is that they never leave a man behind. Even if that man has passed away. So, Nolan put Skidmore’s plaque in a box and carried it through the course, making sure the team’s brother was able to finish the race.
Attracted by stories of hope, the team quickly reached over 2000 members by 2013. Echoes of “CORNFED!” could be heard at virtually any OCR as red and black clad runners boosted struggling runners and strangers over walls. Teammates referred to each other as family members, and it showed. Nicole Winget, former team and board member explained, “Who you run with is far more then a jersey – it is a family…”
“Not only did we do races together, but we lived our lives together. There was a support system there that no matter what you were going through, no matter how bad things seemed, someone was always there to pick you up and help you out,” said member Missy Morris.
Candie Bobick, former team and sales committee member recalls the affect the family had on her when she joined. “They really pulled me out of a dark place.”
Corn Fed was a haven for people who didn’t feel they belonged in the running world. Rick Bosley, former team member, remembered, “I was accepted almost immediately after being sedentary for what felt like years. I didn’t have to podium, there were no expectations other than to show up and try.”
Chad Weberg, who was on the planning board for Crucible (a CFS team race) and an original team member, joined the team to change his life. He loved that Corn Fed was a “great bunch of people bring a Spartan Race to Indiana and turned into motivation to live a healthier lifestyle after that race and beyond.”
But in the last week of February, 112 members left the Corn Fed Spartans. Original members left and members of the sales committee and board stepped down. The mass exodus was confusing for new team members who had seen the team’s spirit on the course and numerous newer members left after seeing the reactions on the Corn Fed Spartans Facebook page.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
Trouble started in August of 2013 after the Corn Fed team held a charity based virtual 5k to benefit All for Hope, an organization that raises money to battle child cancer. The matter grew personal quickly as AFH is close to the hearts of many team members whose own children suffer from cancer. When the donation total was announced, there was an immediate reaction from members of the team claiming massive discrepancies in the registrations and donation.
A Facebook page was set up to allow team members and board members to perform an audit. Documents found on the page are mostly spreadsheets created by Nolan and receipts that were submitted. People felt the answers that were provided were not satisfactory and lacking transparency and that AFH was cheated out of the donation they were promised. Andè Wegner, CFS board member, claimed the discrepancies in registration and finances were due only to disorganization. But, still many on the team felt differently.
Money was brought into the spotlight and from there, more issues quickly came to the team’s attention. People started to question where their money was going when they bought gear, jerseys or registration through the team. A Corn Fed racer asked Nolan if they bought a jersey, where the money would go. He answered, “Whatever we make in the store goes to paying for banners, flags, the website, etc.” That is the blanket answer that was given to most team members.
In July, 2013 a bank account for the team was opened. The CFS bank account is allegedly used only to pay invoices and team expenses on top of the extra branding for the team. Bobick has serious doubts to the truth of this statement. “He [Nolan], is trying to portray it as a family… he keeps saying ‘We’re buying flags, banners, bracelets and whatever else.’ And that’s not necessarily the case. I think we did buy one round of flags, which, yes was a lot of money, I think we bought 4 or 5.”
Winget, former team and board member expressed her concerns about finances, “At one point Nolan told us that we would have to take money from the jersey fund to pay the gear order. Why? If money was being spent legitimately, we should have thousands upon thousands of dollars in excess funds. “
The team made a profit several ways. They made a small profit on the team’s jerseys and also sold t-shirts, beanies, sleeves and other merchandise from their online store. They accepted sponsorship from outside businesses such as Mini Cooper and Zico. Spartan paid the team through the Spartan Race Affliate program which allows the CFS website, to register racers. Each racer that signs up this way prompts a certain amount to be given back to Corn Fed.
Despite this solid income, invoices remained unpaid for weeks or months. When Terry McCormack, another former team and sales committee member left the team, there was a past due invoice over 60 days old for over $4,000. A copy of the invoice was provided by Bobick. As of this writing, the invoice was still unpaid.
McCormack said the role of the sales committee wasn’t to pay the invoices, just to organize the gear on the CFS store. “Invoices just came to us. All we did was see them and we had to tell the powers that be.” So, where is all the money going? For McCormack, the answer is in the lack of communication from Nolan. “I don’t think the money is there. I can’t speculate as to where it is.”
Explosive discussions erupted when jersey orders began to take over 6 months to be delivered. Adam Witmer-Bosley finally contacted Akuma. “When the whole thing happened initially and we were promised the order had been placed along with two others, Akuma verified that only one order had been placed for 28 jerseys and the other 127 jerseys were never sent to them.”
According to Akuma and other teams who use Akuma, orders should only take approximately 3 weeks to ship and arrive. Former members of the sales committee explained that Nolan was the only one in charge of the jerseys. McCormack said when they approached Nolan and the board, “It was, ‘Oh akuma won’t get back to us!’ Well, we started contacting them and they got back to us right away. So, we realized the problem wasn’t with the vendor.”
McCormack, Winget and Bobick all left their positions on the team after a supposed vote took place, that according to Winget and McCormack, did not. The sales committee had proposed that they take over the ordering of jerseys. In line with their proposed plan of quarterly jersey orders, they worked on a jersey order for 2 months, moving forward with executing this facet of sales. The day before the order was due, the responsibility was taken from them in a “vote” by the board.
Winget explained, “The final straw was when a post was made saying the board voted for something when no vote ever occurred. To say that a decision was made with my vote when that was a flat out lie infuriated me.”
According to McCormack, the board is now made up of John Shue, Ande Wegner and Rick Lagacy. Last he knew, all other members had left.
Tensions grew and more members brought issues to light. Nolan remained unsatisfyingly behind the scenes. For many people, simply answering questions clearly, and effectively communicating with the team would make them happy. “We’ve asked for something to quiet the masses. As far as, if there’s nothing going on, shut these people up, pay the bills and let’s go back to racing,” McCormack explained.
TEAM, BUSINESS, OR BOTH?
Nolan owns Corn Fed Spartans, LLC. But, no statement has been made by Nolan about where the team’s money is, what it’s being used for, and if Nolan himself is making a profit.
Other teams have established a successful system for handling money in a variety of ways. Paul Jones, leader of the NE Spahtens, runs his team with a group of nine well-established administrators. “Our admin group is in daily communication- and questions around purchasing, financing, gear and such are handled together. We’ve had no need for a named treasurer or formal committee,” said Jones.
But, it’s not run like a business. Jones and the admin team make no profit off of their gear. There is a PayPal account in Jones’ name that every admin has access to and out of which invoices and purchasing are done.
On the other hand, MudRunFun was started as a business with a team bearing the same name. Damion “At Mudrunfun” Trombley and business partner Matthew O’Leary run MUDRUNFUN, LLC. Unlike NE Spahtens, they are the only two who handle funds. Trombley responded to my questions by first clarifying that all the questions I sent him were “great for a Team that has become a business, not a business that [has] a team built around it.”
The money that is generated through internet based marketing sales is deposited in the business and Material for the team’s products are bought with the money invested in MUDRUNFUN, LLC. “We are able to keep our material cost low for the customer because branding is more important to us than profiting off apparel,” Trombley said.
Running a team and a company of this size is more than a hobby. It can be a job. “Do we pay ourselves?… Yes, we pay ourselves a salary based off company profit as any partnership would. We also pay employees, project managers and our sub-contractors as needed,” said Trombley.
The Corn Fed Spartans started out as a team made of friends and family. Issues began when the team began to transition from a team into a business. As one Corn Fed put it, Nolan “made everyone on the page a customer instead of a member.” Nolan is the only one with access to the Corn Fed Spartans team fund bank account.
For some time, there has been growing speculation that not only are the funds being mishandled and that the money is missing, but that Nolan benefits personally from the money without disclosure. Bobick explained, “I do believe that Jonathan Nolan is using the money. I know a lot of people say it’s an LLC and it’s in his name and he can basically use the money however he wants. But, when you tell you team that whatever money is coming back is being used for the team, and that’s not 100% accurate I do believe the team has a right to know that. He could just step forward and say hey, ‘I’m running this as a business, I do make money off of it, I am buying gear and races and gas and alcohol and whatever else and get over it. If you don’t like it then get off my team, cause it’s my business.’”
What Bobick and others feared was that, “[The team is] paying for Jon to party on the weekends.” They are. Jonathan Nolan is using the money for his own gain.
An anonymous Corn Fed member came forward under the email address CFSwhistleblower. This person has access to the team’s bank accounts and forwarded the statements on to ORM. According to the statements, from July 2013 to January 2014, Nolan has been using the team’s card to fund his own lifestyle.
The card was used for the expected CFS purchases and payments. But, the bank statements show that Nolan has used the card for significantly beyond the expenses of shipping and handling for gear, invoices, and jersey orders. The card was used to support Nolan’s everyday expenses. It was used to pay for multiple nights in hotels, not coinciding with race weekends, a $96 trip to Babies-R-Us, and even items from Etsy.com- where Bobick, former fiancé of Nolan, confirms their wedding rings were purchased.
The statements also show Nolan paid his personal bills from here: monthly withdrawals from Comcast, Best Buy, the Indiana Michigan Power Company and transfers to external accounts. There are frequent purchases from Meijer (a department store), Kroger, and various gas stations. The card was used almost daily for lunches at Chipotle, Subway, McDonalds and Buffalo Wild Wings. There were several expensive restaurant bills footed by the Corn Fed Spartan team, a few large liquor purchases and a $136 outing to Bass Pros Shop. Back in August, there was a $149 purchase from 1-800-Flowers.
Bobick had a Corn Fed team card as well, and it is easy to follow which purchases were hers by the different card numbers. Her purchases were exclusively on team supplies at such places as USPS and Office Depot for wrapping and shipping off gear orders.
The statements go on in more detail for many pages. But, in total, from July to January, the bank account had an income of $45,502.68 and withdrawals or payments totaling $45,364.95, a difference of $137.73 left to the Corn Fed name.
Another blow to the morale of Corn Fed was the recent announcement that their upcoming event the Crucible, would be canceled. John Wikman, upon whose property the event was to take place, announced the cancelation on the Corn Fed Facebook page. But, upon questioning, Nolan stated the event was not being canceled, simply relocated pending agreement another location. According to members of the planning committee for the Crucible, this information was never shared with them. Currently, information about refunds to registered racers has not been released.
We reached out to Nolan with a list of questions similar to those we presented to others for clarification on the team’s finances. Unfortunately, we never received a response.
The group has changed significantly in the last months with many of the core and original members now gone. People often post on the wall that the group is a family and families argue sometimes. But for those who have left, their reasons are bigger than the family bond professed by the team.
Bosley left for a number of reasons, but primarily, “The team lost its heart. The one thing that made us infallible was our ability to work as a group. Money, as a whole wasn’t as transparent as it needed to be, and when it became ‘transparent’ it was after the fact which just made it seem that much worse. I guess it all boils down to the fact that, while in no way a leader, the captain has values (or a lack thereof) that I wouldn’t associate myself with on my worst day.”
“Ultimately, I left for two reasons. 1) The board was in name only. We did not operate as a board. 2) Nolan cannot communicate,” said Nicole Winget.
Tim White was with the team from its early stages. He stayed with Corn Fed, but said, “I will never wear the Jersey again.”
Chad Weberg, who was an original member of Corn Fed has stepped back as well. “While I [have] lots of great, close friends in CFS I can no longer wear the colors at a race or in public because of the lies and misdirection from leadership.”
Missy Morris, also an original member, is no longer an active part of the team. “In the middle of November, myself, and a few others were unknowingly removed from our positions without a heads up or a reason… Throughout it all, I still tried to see the best in everyone involved, even though it was getting harder and hard to do that. Finally I just got sick of all the drama and decided to keep my distance.”
To McCormack, it’s time for CFS to have a change in leadership. “If leadership ever changes hands, and Corn Fed goes back to the way it was,” says McCormack, “then I’ll be more than happy to come back to Corn Fed. I know that at its center, Corn Fed is still Corn Fed. All this drama that’s going on is one group of people and these people are like cancer eating it from the inside. The core of Corn Fed is still there, you know. The hell with my time, I’ll help anybody over a wall.”